We already covered TOSLINK in the blog post SPDIF connections: Get connected, not confused. Of the connections mentioned that are capable of transporting a digital signal — HDMI, coax and TOSLINK — TOSLINK is perhaps the least understood and strangest. A cable connection that transmits signals as light impulses? We’ll explain.
Optical cables: A reliable way to transmit digital signals
TOSLINK is a widely used method of transmitting digital audio data using light pulses. The name is composed of the company name “Toshiba” and “Link”. The Japanese electronics group developed the optical transmission method as early as the beginning of the 1980s. Since then, it has become widely accepted across manufacturers. A light guide built into the cable transmits pulses that are processed as a binary code in the receiver device. One light pulse corresponds to a 1, no light pulse to a 0.
TOSLINK connections can be found on receivers, amplifiers, televisions, CD players and computers. A TOSLINK cable is used in optical transmission methods, hence the term “optical cable”. The type of connector used in the audio sector is also known by the code F05.
How to use TOSLINK cables
TOSLINK cables are an easy and reliable way to transmit digital audio signals. Simply connect the square cable ends (in audio circles, sometimes referred to as the F05 specification) to the appropriate input. The great advantage of optical connections is their resistance to signal disruptions. With electricity-based connections, for instance, unwanted noise is sometimes added to the audio signal in the form of ground loops. Since TOSLINK uses light instead of electricity to transmit a signal, it’s not susceptible to ground loops as are, say, RCA connections.
Speaking of RCA connections, there is a variety of mini TOSLINK that looks like a 3.5 stereo jack. Unlike RCA inputs, however, the mini TOSLINK input on your laptop or iPod will need to be specially equipped to process the optical signal. However, on some devices the RCA and TOSLINK inputs are combined. Adapters are also available that make it possible to connect regular-sized TOSLINK cables to mini TOSLINK inputs.
Is TOSLINK being replaced by HDMI connections?
HDMI is on the rise. But nobody should proclaim the end of TOSLINK. The optical transmission standard continues to enjoy great popularity among users and manufacturers. However, certain limitations may arise due to the much higher data volumes that are available today. TOSLINK, like digital coax cables, is based on the SPDIF interface. Due to the comparatively high data rate and the possibility of transmitting multi-channel data, this interface was untouchable in the home cinema and HiFi sector for a long time.
With the newer HD surround formats such as Dolby True HD and DTS-HD, however, SPDIF has its limits in terms of bandwidth. In order to transmit these formats nevertheless, downmixing is carried out, which leads to a loss of quality – real HD sound does not get through.
With HDMI these limitations do not exist. This, and the fact that HDMI allows both audio and video data to be transmitted with a single cable, could lead manufacturers to dispense with TOSLINK inputs. One example is Apple’s set-top box, where you can no longer use an optical cable since the fourth generation. If you want to connect the box to your music system to listen to music, you’ll have problems if your receiver or amplifier doesn’t support HDMI. One solution can be so-called HDMI audio splitters. They prepare the audio data for standards like SPDIF or Cinch.
Get connected with Teufel cables
- ▶ Optical audio cable: With this digital cable you can connect your audio player with an AV receiver, an amplifier, or other devices that can be connected with a TOSLINK port.
- ▶ 5.1 Home cinema cable-Set 30 m² “Standard”: To make sure that you can reach all the speakers including a subwoofer in your living room, we have this inexpensive cable set ready for you. It is sufficient for 30 meters of cable and 2.5 meters distance to the woofer.
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TOSLINK cables: An overview
- TOSLINK is a method for transmitting digital audio signals via light impulses
- The method is well established due to its high degree of stability and low susceptibility for noise interference
- Optical cables come in two varieties: A standard square plug and a miniplug that resemble RCA jacks
- The bandwidth offered by TOSLINK is not large enough to transmit HD surround sound formats
- HDMI splitters can help with source devices that do not offer TOSLINK connections
Title Picture: By Ruben58 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons